IT’S Saturday night and you’re looking forward to the arrival of your Indian takeaway curry.
Fast-forward a couple of hours and you’re feeling content, but bloated and potentially in agony from heartburn.
Indian food is not necessarily unhealthy, but like any cuisine in a takeaway form, it’s indulgent.
“Curries like tikka masala cooked in creamy sauces are the highest in calories.
“Masala is usually made with cream and ground almonds, so consuming large portions can ramp up your calorie intake.
“Calorie content can vary huge amounts depending on the restaurant’s recipe so check out the figures, as restaurants are now required to display calories on menus.”
When you order a takeaway, it’s not uncommon to pile on the sides, too.
Helen said this can really ramp up the calories- for example, a naan can be 350 calories itself, which is what you’d consume in a typical lunch.
“Peshwari naans filled with desiccated coconut, dried fruit and almonds can contain many more calories,” she said.
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But it’s not all bad – Helen said there is a good level of fibre in this meal, which is important for bowel health.
And basmati rice is a resistant starch, which is both filling and has “a prebiotic effect in the gut, which means it can help to increase the number of ‘friendly’ bacteria”.
Helen said: “This in turn, protects the bowel, keeps it healthy and supports the body’s immunity.
“Resistant starch also increases satiety, helping to keep you feeling fuller for longer, so including basmati rice in a curry meal can help regulate appetite.”
If Helen were to choose a curry, she’d go for tandoori chicken with steamed rice or plain chapati and vegetables.
Helen explained what can happen in the hour following a heavy curry takeaway consisting of:
- Chicken tikka masala (475 calories)
- Medium portion of pilau rice (214 calories)
- One naan (348 calories)
- Saag aloo (188 calories)
After you eat, your blood sugar will rise in response.
How dramatically it rises and falls will depend on the foods you eat. The slower, the better.
Helen said: “Blood sugar (glucose) levels will start to increase within around 15- 20 minutes of eating a carb rich meal – we’re talking rice, naan and potatoes in the saag aloo.
“But, overall a curry has a low glycaemic index – a measure of how quickly it raises blood sugar levels – because the high fat and protein content of the curry meal will help slow down the absorption.”
This should reduce a large spike in blood sugars, and therefore any after effects such as hunger or low energy.
Bring on the food baby – Helen said around 20 minutes after a curry, bloating or swelling is normal.
“Especially if the curry is high in fat and you wolf it down after a night out,” Helen said.
“It can take up a lot of space in your stomach, so it can make you feel very full and sluggish after eating.”
Because this meal has a high amount of salt – 4.6g, 80 per cent of the maximum daily limit – it’s likely to tip you into some nasty side effects.
Helen said: “As well as the long term effects on blood pressure, eating too much salt at once can have a few short-term consequences.
“You may feel more bloated or puffy than usual. That’s because your kidneys try to maintain equilibrium in your body – holding onto extra water to compensate for the extra salt you ate.
“This increased water retention may result in swelling, and can cause you to weigh more than usual.”
“Eating a salty meal can also make you feel thirsty as well, as it disrupts the balance of fluid in your cells and minerals in your body, so you want to go back for more drinks.”
Up to 60 minutes after eating
Around an hour after a curry, you might start to feel a familiar burning sensation in the chest.
Helen said: “Spicy, high fat foods are a commonly reported gut irritant for people with heartburn – especially if eaten in the evening.
“And then lying down in bed or slouched on the sofa after a late night calorie rich curry.”
Four hours after eating
Helen had a warning for those who have weaker and more sensitive stomachs.
“A word of caution for IBS sufferers – many curry dishes use plenty of garlic and onion – both of which are high in FODMAPs, a type of short chain carbohydrate that some people with IBS can find difficult to digest and can trigger gut movements and symptoms, like cramps, diarrhoea etc.
“Creamy fatty dishes like tikka masala can make things often even worse, since many individuals with IBS struggle with fatty foods.”
Helen said often eating an indulgent meal can leave you wanting more.
She said: “The combo of highly palatable fast food and moreish nutrients like sugar and fat activates the reward centres in the brain and can stimulate one’s desire for more of the same type of food, once hunger resumes.”
Is an Indian takeaway curry bad for you?
Indian curries tend to be heavy on the fat – ghee, creams, butter and so on.
Helen said there is “around 20g saturated fat in this popular curry meal – that’s our entire day’s maximum daily-recommended amount in one sitting”.
“This is not good news for cholesterol levels and in turn, heart health. Chefs tend to use a lot of ghee in their cooking, a type of clarified butter that’s around 58 per cent saturated fat.”
The Government recommends that we eat no more than 6g of salt a day, which is about a teaspoon.
This curry comes in at 4.6g, which leaves little room for salt in other meals.
With 18.5g of sugar, this meal is heavy on the sweet stuff but not drastic.
Adults should limit “added sugars” to 33g per day, the NHS says (around one can of Cola). This does not include foods and drinks like yoghurt and fruit.
It’s difficult to tease apart the added sugar from the natural sugars in a meal like an Indian takeaway. The former could come in the form of breads.
Helen said an Indian takeaway curry is a “high fibre meal” – and depending on the option, could become even more fibrous depending on whether it contains vegetables or legumes (such as dahl).
She said: “It supplies 16g – that’s 53 per cent of the recommended 30g of fibre we need each day for good gut health and improved bowel function.
“High fibre intakes have also been associated with a lower risk of bowel cancer, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes complications, increased satiety and weight management.”
“One option would be to choose a fibre-rich side such as chapatti, which can also help push up the hunger busting combo of protein and fibre.”